Protesters expressed dismay for rising tuition fees. Photo: Miles Kenyon

Student protesters threaten to skip town

Demonstrators say tuition rates are unrealistically high in Nova Scotia.

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Twenty protesters gathered at the foot of the Macdonald Bridge at 8:30 a.m. today, armed with signs and suitcases.

Their message was clear: they'll take their tuition dollars elsewhere.

The protesters were students, jokingly prepared to leave Nova Scotia for Newfoundland where tuition rates are substantially lower.

"We need to follow (Newfoundland's) lead and their model of getting students to come and stay in the province," said Gabe Hoogers, an executive of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) who organized the demonstration.

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A variety of protest signs from the Farewell, Nova Scotia demonstration

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Nova Scotia students pay more than double what Newfoundland students pay

Robyn Touchie, president of the NSCAD Student Union, said the provincial government simply isn't demonstrating that they care for the needs of students.

"(Newfoundland's) putting post-secondary education first which should be the first priority (here) but apparently it's not," she said.

Newfoundland

Newfoundland has the lowest tuition rates in the country, averaging around $2,649 each year, compared to Nova Scotia students who pay $5,731. Newfoundland rates have also stayed the same for the past several years, while Nova Scotia has allowed universities to raise tuition by seven per cent in the last two years.

While demonstrators were light-hearted, their message carries weight.

Memorial University of Newfoundland has seen an 18 per cent increase in enrolment in students from Nova Scotia over the past five years.

"Anecdotally," said Joan Burry of MUN's registrar's office, "I can tell you that students cite the lower tuition costs at Memorial as one of the reasons for choosing us."

In contrast, Dalhousie has seen a decrease of six per cent in the number of students from Nova Scotia.

Today's protesters expect these trends to continue.

"Maybe in a couple years we'll have tuition fees that are as expensive as the States, and then who's going to be able to go to school?" asked Anna, a Dalhousie and King's College student at the protest.

Another student at the protest, Liam, says he has gotten through his first year at Dalhousie with financial assistance from his parents and a part-time job. But his parents are no longer able to support him and he does not want to accrue massive debt.

"I probably won't be going to university next year because it's just not a smart choice for me," he said.

Karen Stone, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia government's Department of Advanced Education, says it's unfair to compare Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

"There are 11 universities in Nova Scotia and I believe there's one in Newfoundland so just the whole funding structure probably looks much different than it does in Nova Scotia," she said.

She said Marilyn More, Minister of the Advanced Education Department, has made significant steps to keep Nova Scotia tuition rates "at or below the national average," cap debt allowances and increase assistance levels.

"In the 2011 provincial budget, $42.5 million was invested into the university system to...keep education affordable," she said.

Today's protest comes only a few weeks after the province released its memorandum of understanding with Nova Scotia universities. It outlines a three per cent decrease in funding for universities and a possible three per cent increase in tuition.

Small but spirited

While the protest was fairly small, with around 20 participants, it garnered continuous honks from passing cars and organizers deemed it a success.

"We have students from every school under the CFS...it's a great turnout," said Touchie. "There's enough signs for every pair of hands and it's a lead-up action to next week's march on Wednesday...I'm hoping for more than we had last year."

 

 

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